Is the Mullins-Hobbs Influence upon the Traditionalist Southern Baptist Movement a Healthy One?
The rise in Calvinism in the Southern Baptist Convention in recent years prompted a group of concerned pastors under the leadership of Dr. Eric Hankins to draft a document entitled A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation. This document presents a series of affirmations and denials clearly delineating the stark differences between a Calvinistic and non-Calvinistic understanding of soteriology. In short, the statement,
refers to the basic understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation espoused by each of the primary confessors of The Baptist Faith and Message—E.Y. Mullins in 1925, Herschel Hobbs in 1963 and Adrian Rogers in 2000. Although we have no data to prove this matter conclusively, we believe Traditionalism is the majority view of salvation doctrine in the Southern Baptist Convention.
Much debate has ensued between Calvinists and Traditionalists within the Southern Baptist Convention over which soteriological viewpoint is indeed the most “traditional.” Calvinists rightly assert that the convention was founded in 1845 by Calvinists and that Reformed theology held sway until the middle of the 20th century under the leadership of James Boyce, Dagg, and others. Traditionalists agree with their Calvinistic brothers on the founders’ adherence to the doctrines of grace, but argue that the majority view for the past half century has been that of E. Y. Mullins, Herschel Hobbs, and Adrian Rogers—the respective chairmen of the three Baptist Faith and Message (BFM) committees in the last century.
Does the Traditionalist view of soteriology as articulated in the Traditional Statement emerge from the healthiest stream of confessional, orthodox, biblical theology? If Traditionalists point to Mullins and Hobbs especially, as their theological forebears and heroes, then what were the deeply held beliefs of these men and how did those beliefs shape the overall trajectory of the Southern Baptist Convention? Upon close examination, Mullins and Hobbs were responsible for moving the Convention away from its Calvinistic roots. While not responsible themselves for the rise of liberalism, these men did create a theological environment that necessitated the Conservative Resurgence. Mullins’ views on the nature of man and the doctrine of Scripture were heavily influenced by liberal German scholasticism. Hobbs view of predestination and election was heavily influenced by Swiss theologian Karl Barth. Hobbs was a student of Mullins at Southern Seminary and adopted much of his theology but moved further away from Calvinism to embrace an amalgam of Barthian theology mixed with Arminianism.
Hobbs’ contemporary Frank Stagg was instrumental in the 1960’s of moving the Convention away from Calvinism altogether along with the writings of Dale Moody in the early 80’s. One can argue that from around 1925 to the early 1990’s, theological liberalism, neo-orthodoxy, and Arminianism in the seminaries represented the streams from which the current Traditionalist movement has emerged. This paper will not address the theology of Adrian Rogers as he is a hero to the Conservative Resurgence and brought the convention back to its original commitment to the inerrancy of Scripture. The vast majority of Traditionalist are conservative inerrantists who hold to the authority of Scripture and celebrate the return of the Southern Baptist Convention back to its stance on the authority of Scriptures championed by Adrian Rogers, Paige Patterson, Judge Paul Pressler, and other architects of the Conservative Resurgence.
Yet, if the Traditionalist Southern Baptist movement (officially organized under the Connect 316 ministry and the Traditional Statement) desire to claim E. Y. Mullins and Herschel Hobbs as their theological influences, then one must carefully examine these men’s doctrinal convictions and evaluate if they represent a healthy, confessional, biblical stream of orthodox theology worthy to embrace. In essence, does the influence of these two men help or hinder the theological cause of Traditional Southern Baptists? Do these men represent the most biblical and confessional theology of Southern Baptists?
E. Y. Mullins served as the fourth president of Southern Seminary from 1899-1928 and represents a major shift away from the seminary’s Calvinistic roots. His book The Christian Religion in Its Doctrinal Expression (1917) was used as the major theological textbook for both Southern and Southwestern seminaries for decades. This work articulated many of his departures away from Calvinism to a more moderate Calvinism. Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in his article “E. Y. Mullins: The Axioms of Religion” asserts that Mullins’ close ties with the faculty of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and Harvard influenced him to “begin exploration in the writings of European theologians such as Germans Friedrich Schleiermacher and Albrecht Ritchel. . .. He was introduced to the pragmatism of William James at Harvard.” Schleiermacher, considered the father of modern theological liberalism, reacted against the rationalism of the Enlightenment and stressed the importance of religious feelings which he argued is brought about by Christ. His first major work Speeches on Religion to the Culture among its Despisers (1799) argued that “religion is grounded neither in pure nor in practical or moral reason, but rather in Gefuhl—A German word that is best translated as ‘feeling’—a profound awareness of the existence of the One on whom all existence depends.” Ritchel (1822-1889) believed that Schleiermacher’s’ emphasis on “feeling of absolute dependence” was too subjective and argued that Christianity should focus more on practical life, not rational knowledge or subjective feelings. While not a theological liberal, Mullins was influenced by the teachings of these influential German scholars.
As President of Southern Seminary during the 1920’s, Mullins found himself in the midst of the fundamentalist debate with the rise of modernism. His contemporary J. Gresham Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism was a clarion call to combat the rise of liberalism in American Christianity and believed that Mullins did not assert his influence as much as he could have to be a strong voice for Southern Baptists. The difficulty with Mullins is that in his attempt to not get overly involved in the politics of the fundamentalist/modernism debate, his theology was confusing. His middle of the road approach lacked precision. His desire not to offend or take sides in a way was not overly helpful in keeping Southern Seminary closely tied to its Calvinistic roots.
Mullins never articulated a full statement on his belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. He did affirm the dynamic theory of inspiration and attested that the writers of Scripture were enabled to “declare truth unmixed with error.” The experientialism of Schleiermacher helped influence his understanding of the Bible’s authority. Southern Baptist historian Tom Nettles claims, “Defenses of biblical authority, or inerrancy, which relied on a priori reasoning, or syllogisms, were counterproductive to real spiritual life in Mullins’ view. Truth must be assimilated experientially, he reasoned, not ‘imposed by authority of any kind, whether pope or church or Bible.’” Mohler asserts,
Once the autonomous individual is made the central authority in matters of theology—a move made necessary by Mullins emphasis on religious experience—the authority of Scripture becomes secondary at best, regardless of what may be claimed in honor of Scripture’s preeminence. Either personal experience will be submitted to revelation, or revelation will be submitted to personal experience.
Mullins’ drift toward experiential theology planted the roots that would fully bloom in the coming decades giving rise to liberalism—especially in the seminaries.
In regards to predestination and election, at times he echoed the strong Calvinism of James P. Boyce and the Founders. He wrote, “God’s choice of a person is prior to that person’s choice of God, since God is infinite in wisdom and knowledge and will not make the success of the divine kingdom dependent on the contingent choices of people.” This statement reflects a clear adherence to unconditional election. Mullins also claims,
Does God choose men to salvation because of their good works or because he foresees they will believe when the gospel is preached to them? Beyond a doubt God foresees faith. Beyond doubt faith is a condition of salvation. The question is whether it is also the grounds of salvation. The Scriptures answer this question in the negative.
The Reformed doctrine of unconditional election asserts that foreseen faith or human action are not the foundation or basis for God’s electing choice of some sinners to salvation. Instead, God’s choice of certain sinners before the foundation of the world rests solely in His sovereign good pleasure whereby there are no conditions the sinner must meet as a basis for God’s electing love. Mullins clearly affirmed this doctrine.
In many of his writings he claimed a strong Calvinistic stance on unconditional election, and yet at other times, his Schleiermacher influenced “experienced-centered” philosophy possibly led him to make this statement: “Human freedom limits God, as does unbelief and sin. Men cannot be made righteous by sheer omnipotence.” Does Mullins affirm unconditional election yet deny irresistible grace? His statements are confusing and lack cohesiveness with the robust Calvinism of his earlier years. The following statement demonstrates this lack of clarity on the issue of predestination and regeneration: “God’s grace is not ‘irresistible’ as a physical force is irresistible.’ Grace is moral and spiritual. A person’s decision to believe the gospel is initiated by God, but in such a way that the choice remains a free, self-determined act.” Most Calvinists will agree that in regeneration, God sovereignly liberates the sinner’s will that is held in bondage to depravity. In doing so, God does not violate the will, but overcomes and renews the will to respond positively in faith. Calvinism clearly teaches that regeneration precedes faith, yet Mullins seems to argue that when a sinner exercises faith in Christ that faith is a self-determined act. These statements show inconsistent Calvinism. He adheres to unconditional election on one hand, but seems to deny irresistible grace on the other. This move away from regeneration preceding faith evidences an elevated view of sinful man and softens the Founders’ emphasis on total depravity and total inability.
Mullins does not single-handedly reject total depravity and total inability because of his leadership in the wording on human sin in the Baptist Faith and Message 1925 which states,
He was created in a state of holiness under the law of his Maker, but, through the temptation of Satan, he transgressed the command of God and fell from his original holiness and righteousness; whereby his posterity inherit a nature corrupt and in bondage to sin, are under condemnation, and as soon as they are capable of moral action, become actual transgressors.
Mullins stresses that all people are in bondage to sin and under condemnation. Yet, this statement softens the older Baptist confessions’ views on imputed guilt from Adam. Sinners become actual transgressors when they are capable of moral action.
In essence, Mullins paved the way for the softening of Calvinism within the Southern Baptist Convention through his views on total inability and imputed guilt as well as irresistible grace. In the end, Mullins was an inconsistent Calvinist in regards to the Dortian tradition of the Founders such as Boyce and the Abstract of Principles. Nettles sums up this shift: “Mullins’s chosen approach made him more anthropocentric than theocentric and eventually eroded any meaningful emphasis on God’s sovereignty.”
Today, those in the Traditionalist camp deny the Calvinistic teaching of unconditional election. In Article Six of the Traditional Statement, the framers write, “We deny that election means that, from eternity, God predestined certain people for salvation and others for condemnation.” Clearly, this statement reflects a strong reaction against unconditional election. Yet, Mullins never wavered from a firm commitment to this doctrine. The Traditionalists champion Mullins as a hero, yet choose to clearly reject one of his clear teachings. When Traditionalists say that they are of the “Mullins tradition,” how much of Mullins’ theology do they adopt? Is there simply a commitment to the wording of the 1925 Baptist Faith and Message or to the entire systematic theology of E. Y. Mullins? Would a Traditionalist affirm unconditional election in the way that Mullins did? Traditionalists affirm total depravity while denying total inability. They reject unconditional election in favor of the corporate view of election. They deny irresistible grace and argue for a more cooperative effort between the sinner and God in terms of regeneration. Would Mullins recognize or even affirm the theology of the Traditionalists today? Would the Traditionalist today adopt the obscure language of the Bible’s authority in regards to Mullins lack of specificity on inerrancy?
Before we delve into the theology of one of Mullin’s most influential students of the middle part of the 20th century, Herschel Hobbs, one must examine how the writings of Karl Barth had a tremendous impact on Hobbs’ soteriology.
Barth’s magnum opus was Church Dogmatics an 8000-page treatise which articulates neo-orthodox theology. He departed from the historic Protestant view of the inerrancy and inspiration of Scripture and argued for a modern view. In an attempt to strike a balance between the written word of God in Scripture and the role of the Holy Spirit in illuminating this Scripture to the minds and hearts of believers, Karl Barth actually planted the seeds of modern day anti-inerrancy views. The following statement by Barth proves very frightening: “Only when and where it pleases God to reveal himself to us through this human and fallible witness, this witness becomes the Word of God for us and at that moment is the Word of God for us.” This shocking statement means that the written, inspired Word of God is actually not the God-breathed text (it is a fallible witness), but only becomes God’s Word when God is pleased to do so through preaching. Peter Adam refutes this argument by saying, “Barth’s theory may do justice to the freedom of the Spirit at work in the preacher and hearers, but it does not do justice to the work of God’s Spirit in self-revelation through the original giving of the Scriptures.”
In his Church Dogmatics, Barth reinterprets the classic Reformed doctrine of unconditional election by shifting the object of God’s election away from the individual to Christ the Son. He writes, “In its simplest and most comprehensive form the dogma of predestination consists, then, in the assertion that the divine predestination is the election of Jesus Christ. . . . that Jesus Christ is the electing God, and that He is also elected man.” Barth rejected the historic Calvinistic view of election because he believed it regarded election as a “static, fixed decision rather than a dynamic history between God and man.” Barth understood God’s process of election under three major headings: (1) the election of Jesus Christ, (2) the election of the community, and (3) the election of the individual. In this scheme, God chose Jesus to be the “elect One” first and foremost instead of the classical view that God elected certain individuals to be saved before the creation of the world (Eph 1:3-5). This corporate view of election shows God ordaining more of a “plan of salvation” whereby the “elect community” or people would be “in Christ” regardless of whether or not sinners actually exercised personal faith in Christ. Many have accused Barth of universalism as a result of his novel view of predestination. His contemporary Emil Brunner charged Barth with this indictment:
Karl Barth, in his transference of salvation offered to faith to unbelievers, departs from the ground of biblical revelation, in order to draw a logical conclusion he finds illuminating. . . . The decision has thus been taken in Jesus Christ—for everyone. It does not matter whether they know it or not, or believe it or not. Thea main point is that they are saved.
Barth ambiguously denied this charge, but still introduced this new concept of corporate election with Christ being the One chosen. This view of predestination was new in church history, which challenged the longstanding options of classic Calvinistic unconditional election and classic Arminian conditional election.
It is my contention that Herschel Hobbs borrowed heavily from Mullins’ anthropocentric experience approach to theology along with a Barthian view of divine election to popularize the corporate view of election to thousands of Southern Baptists in the middle to later part of the 20th century. Hobbs (1907-1995) was often called “Mr. Southern Baptist” because he preached for eighteen years on the “Baptist Hour” radio program and was President of the Southern Baptist Convention from 1961-1963, chairing the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message Committee. In the late 70’s, through the publication of Broadman Press, Hobbs updated and reinterpreted E. Y. Mullins’ The Christian Religion in Its Doctrinal Expression with his own Axioms of Religion. Hobbs clearly rejects the Calvinistic unconditional election view and promotes this new corporate view of election that stems from many of Barth’s teachings. First of all, Hobbs argues that God elected people to be “in Christ” as opposed to the predestination of particular individuals. He writes, “So God elected that all who ‘are in Christ’ will be saved. All outside of Christ will be lost.” Thankfully he rejected the universalism of Barth’s view of election, but still denied that God sovereignly chose particular person before the foundation of the world to be saved. Second, Hobbs asserts that the way a person becomes “in Christ” or one of the elect is by using his or her free will to believe in Jesus (Eph 1:13). In other words, God set up a plan of salvation whereby Christ would be the elect One (Barth). God did not before the foundation of the world elect any particular sinners for salvation but set up the boundary or fence that those who in time would use their own free will could be included as among the elect. He writes, “The final choice lay with man. God in his sovereignty set the conditions. Man in his free will determines the results.”
The clearest teaching on this corporate view of election comes in Hobbs commentary on the Baptist Faith and Message 1963, Section Six: God’s Purpose of Grace. His interpretation of John 6:44, “No man can come to the me, unless the Father draw him and I will raise him up on the last day”, denies the total inability of sinners to come to faith. He writes, “Draw is God’s initiative. ‘Come’ is man’s response.” This reveals a synergistic approach to God’s sovereign regeneration whereby God starts the process and woos and convicts, but ultimately man must cooperate with this drawing and be the deciding factor of whether or not he actually comes to faith in Christ or not.
Hobbs espouses his corporate view of election as follows:
He elected that all who are ‘in Christ’ shall be saved. ‘In Christ’ is the boundary that God marked out beforehand, like building a fence around a field. God did this in sovereignty. In this act he asked the counsel or permission of no one. All who are within the fence ‘in Christ’ shall be saved. Man is free to choose whether or not he will be in Christ. . . .God never violates human personality. He will not save a man against his will. He knocks at the door of the heart, but he will not force it open. However, to all who of their own free wills will open the door, he enters and saves graciously apart from man’s own efforts or merits.
He rightly takes great pains to protect God’s sovereignty in that God was not coerced or obligated to save anyone and acted with on outside restraints. But instead of interpreting Ephesians 1:3-13 as God’s choice to elect and predestine certain individuals before creation, he argues that God set up a plan or a boundary in Christ. Again, Christ is the elect One and there is a plan for those who would be in Christ. There is no individual election but the choice of a plan to save people who of their own free will autonomously choose to trust in Christ for salvation. Once a person chooses Christ (Eph 1:13) he or she is now in that boundary or “in Christ” and thus become one of the elect. This statement above by Hobbs is very telling for it categorically denies the key Calvinistic doctrines of Total Inability, Unconditional Election, and Irresistible Grace. David Dockery claims, “Hobbs held a high view of biblical inspiration, while embracing the classical Arminian interpretation of the doctrine of God, so as to affirm complete divine foreknowledge of ever free human choice, yet in such a way that the choices are not predetermined.”
In his other writings, Hobbs clearly taught a mix of Barthian corporate election with Arminian synergism. He writes, “God has limited Himself, however, by choosing not to assert His sovereignty in a way that would violate human free will; to do so would be inconsistent with his nature, character, and purpose.” Elsewhere Hobbs asserts, “An all-powerful, sovereign God has in matters of the spirit voluntarily limited himself to the response of the free will of man. This is not an evidence of God’s weakness, but of his power. Man can obey or rebel against God’s will, but a sovereign God holds him accountable for his choices.” He continues, “Election refers to a plan of salvation for all men and not simply to the capricious choice of some men and the rejection of others.” Tom Nettles describes the influence of Mullins on Hobbs’ theology of election: “In this section he has quoted Mullins’s Christian Religion at the point where Mullins says, ‘Election is not to be thought of as a bare choice of so many human units by God’s action independently of man’s free choice and the human means employed. God elects men to respond freely” [p. 347].’ Paul Basden in his work Has Our Theology Changed? Southern Baptist Thought Since 1845 accurately sums up Hobbs’ key theology in regards to election:
God’s plan must not be perceived as a hidden decree that predetermines who will and will not be saved. Rather, the plan concerns the all-important condition established by God for receiving salvation, namely, grace through Christ. A person’s free choice to accept or reject God’s plan determines his or her salvation. ‘This decision takes place in the realm of man’s free will.’ (Hobbs, New Testament Evangelism, 49) Because God has conditioned salvation upon individual choice, ‘the individual’s response is the determining factor.’ (Hobbs, An Exposition of the Gospel of John, 132). If a person chooses to believe in Christ then that person is saved. . . . The only criterion for salvation is to be ‘in Christ’: God elected that all who are ‘in Christ’ shall be saved. . . God in his sovereignty decreed ‘in Christ,’ but each person in his free will decides whether or not he will be ‘in Christ.’ (Hobbs, New Man, 19-20)
Like Mullins who was chairman of the 1925 BFM Committee, Hobbs served as the chairman of the 1963 committee. His leadership and theological influence helped craft a new document that moved further away from the Calvinism of the 1925 edition—especially in the area of original sin and man’s depravity. The original 1925 edition affirmed that because of Adam’s sin, “his posterity inherit a nature corrupt and in bondage to sin, are under condemnation.” Hobbs’ 1963 version poses a significant change not in only in wording but in theology. The updated version reads, “whereby his (Adam’s) posterity inherit a nature and an environment inclined toward sin, and as soon as they are capable of moral action become transgressors and are under condemnation.” In the 1925 version, all humans were said to inherit a corrupt nature that is in bondage to sin and under condemnation. This represents the classic Calvinistic view of total depravity and imputed guilt from Adam. The 1963 edition softens man’s sinful condition by showing that he simply inherits a nature and an environment that is inclined toward sin. This simple change in wording reveals a major change in theology. The word “inclined” could reveal a semi-Pelagian understanding of man’s sinful nature that he could or could not sin due to his environment. While Traditionalists emphatically deny that they are semi-Pelagian, this specific wording opens them up to that particular charge. In Hobbs’ view, humans are inclined to sin, but there could be a possibility that they not ever give into sin. The 1925 edition teaches the biblical truth that all people are born under God’s wrath, inheriting both sin and guilt from Adam, and are in bondage to sin. The 1963 edition illustrates an elevated view of man’s sinfulness and does not condemn him until after he has actually committed a sin. The softening of the language shows a potentiality that man could not sin based upon his inclinations and environment and that he is guilty only after committing an actual transgression. The Scriptures seem to teach that all men are born guilty in Adam even before they actually commit any physical sins (Romans 5:12-ff). The reason why they commit actual sins is due to their sinful and corrupt nature.
Clearly, Herschel Hobbs proved an instrumental figure in Southern Baptist life moving the convention away from its historic Calvinistic roots to adopting a newer vision of God’s sovereignty in election. One wonders if his teacher E. Y. Mullins would even recognize Hobbs’ theology as patently Southern Baptist in regards to predestination. Thankfully, Hobbs did not embrace the universalism of Barth nor the liberal and neo-orthodox views of the inspiration and authority of Scripture. As a prolific writer and preacher, he influenced an entire generation of Southern Baptists and probably single-handedly paved the way for the modern Traditionalist movement’s key theological positions.
While Hobbs can be admired for his strong stance on biblical inerrancy, a few of his contemporaries took the Southern Baptist convention into the murky waters of theological liberalism giving rise to the acute need for the Conservative Resurgence in 1979 and the ensuing battles in the 1980’s and early 1990’s. These two figures are Frank Stagg and Dale Moody.
If Hershel Hobbs represented the popular theology of the Southern Baptist lay person, Frank Stagg may be considered the most influential theologian and seminarian in the 1940’s through the late 70’s. He served as professor at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary from 1945-64 and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary from 1964-1977. His major work New Testament Theology denied many orthodox doctrines such as the substitutionary atonement of Christ and came very close to embracing universalism. His famous line, often quoted by Herschel Hobbs, exemplifies his denial of Calvinism: “This is not a ‘rigged’ television show. God is not playing with toys or manipulating gadgets; he is seeking men who stand in awesome freedom where they may accept or reject the salvation which God alone can offer.” Stagg also states, “Nowhere in the New Testament does there appear a God who desires or purposes the damnation of a single soul.” Clearly, Stagg’s anti-Calvinistic leanings were not hidden as he influenced a vast majority of pastors in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s.
Wayne Dehoney served as pastor of Walnut Street Baptist Church in Louisville, KY, from 1967 to 1985. He was SBC president in 1964-66. He served on the Kentucky Baptist Convention and Tennessee Baptist Convention executive boards as well as on the Baptist World Alliance Executive Committee and as chairman of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s board of trustees. Dehoney adamantly refuted Calvinism in a book he wrote on preaching where he says: “Herein is an awesome truth! You and I, finite beings, can thwart the purpose of the Almighty God! We can resist and rebel and cause God himself to fail in our lives!”
Dale Moody represents the last writing Southern Baptist Theologian before the Conservative Resurgence. He was a professor of Christian Theology at Southern Seminary from 1944 to 1980. His work the Word of Truth (1981) articulated many of his key doctrines in regards to predestination. This work demonstrates his whole-sale embrace of Karl Barth’s novel doctrine of election. His interpretation of Ephesians 1:3-14 also echoes the theology of Herschel Hobbs. He writes, “We are in Christ by faith, but it is only in Christ that we are chosen or elected. God’s grace must be accepted by human faith. . . . Whoever chooses to be in Christ is elect. To choose Christ is to choose His destiny, that is eternal glory.” Sadly, Moody was the first influential Southern Baptist theologian to deny all five points of Calvinism including eternal security/perseverance of the saints. He wrote in The Word of Truth, “Many… see a picture of an arbitrary tyrant on his hellish-heavenly throne watching mankind march by. Number six–you are in a fix! Number seven–you go to heaven! Why? God just decreed that all number sixes go to hell and all number sevens go to heaven.”  He also argued, “In brief the system of Calvinism cannot be patched with new cloth. The new wine cannot be put in old wineskins. That is what too many do when they try to torture the texts of the Bible to agree with some creed or confession of the past. I cannot say this too strongly.”
Thankfully those in the Traditionalist movement reject the quasi-liberalism of Stagg and Moody and champion the heroism of Adrian Rogers in his spearheading the Conservative Resurgence. Yet, when one examines closely the stream from which the Traditionalist movement has emerged, what comes to the surface is a diluted theology that is somewhat confusing. Would the Traditionalists do better to only claim Adrian Rogers as their hero in that they are of the “Rogers/CR” tradition. Do they want to continue to claim Mullins and Hobbs as their heroes? If they claim Mullins, then they must come to grips with his solid adherence to the Calvinistic view of unconditional election. Do they want to go that far? If they claim Hobbs as their hero, do they want to fully embrace his novel approach to corporate election that stems from Karl Barth? While my research has been somewhat limited, I could find no Southern Baptist theologian before Hobbs to fully embrace and promulgate the corporate view of election.
In conclusion, when the Traditionalists claim that their view of corporate election has been the dominant view in Southern Baptist life for the past 50 years, they are correct. Yet, in regards to church history stemming all the way back to the patristics as well as the great confessions of the Reformation, the corporate view of election has only been around less than a hundred years. This view originated and was popularized by one individual, Karl Barth, in a reaction against the Calvinism of his roots. His view was co-opted by Hobbs with some modifications, but then became the dominant view for the past few decades in Southern Baptist life. When one compares the great confessions of the faith from the Reformation era that took years to draft with hundreds of men deliberating over the Scriptures to the theology of Karl Barth’s musings, does his view stack up biblically? Does the exegesis of Scripture offered by Karl Barth represent the most robust stream of orthodox theology? In addition, does the theology of Herschel Hobbs represent the most robust stream of orthodox theology? In the end, one must conclude that the Traditionalist Southern Baptist theology for the past 50 years has been a combination of experienced based pragmatism mixed with Barthian theology and classic Arminianism. Does this truly represent historic, traditional Southern Baptist theology?
http://connect316.net/about-us/why-traditionalism/ (accessed September 22, 2016)
Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, The Reformation to the Present Day (vol. 2) (San Francisco: Harper Publishing, 1985), 286.
E. Y. Mullins, The Christian Religion in Its Doctrinal Expression (Nashville: Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1917), 143.
E. Y. Mullins, Baptist Beliefs (Philadelphia: Judson Press, 1925), 26.
Mullins, The Christian Religion, 343.
Quoted by Peter Adam in Speaking God’s Words: A Practical Theology of Preaching (Vancouver: Regent College Publishing, 1996), 116.
Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1957), 161-64.
Gordon R. Lewis and Bruce A. Demarest, Integrative Theology, Volume Three (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 25.
Emil Brunner, The Christian Doctrine of God: Dogmatics, Vol. 1 (London: Lutterworth Press, 1949), 346-51.
Herschel Hobbs, The Axioms of Religion (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1978), 71.
Herschel Hobbs, The Baptist Faith and Message (Nashville: Convention Press, 1984), 66.
David S. Dockery, The Crisis of Scripture in Southern Baptist Life: Reflections on the Past, Looking to the Future, 45.
Herschel Hobbs, What Baptists Believe (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1964), 24.
Hobbs, New Men in Christ: Studies in Ephesians (Waco: Word Books, 1974), 11.
Hobbs, Fundamentals, 93.
Tom Nettles, “The Rise and Fall of Calvinism in the SBC” Founders Journal, 1995.
Paul Basden, Has Our Theology Changed: Southern Baptist Thought Since 1845 (Nashville: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1994), 61-62.
Frank Stagg, New Testament Theology, 88.
Wayne Dehoney, Preaching to Change Lives (Nashville, Broadman Press, 1974), 120.
Dale Moody, Romans, in Broadman Bible Commentary, vol. 10 (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1970), 222.
Dale Moody, The Word of Truth (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981), pp. 337.
First of all, what does it mean for Jesus to be your LORD?
One of the most powerful statements by Jesus comes in John 19:30 where He cried out, “It is Finished!” while dying on the cross. Through the cross, King Jesus has accomplished absolutely everything necessary for your salvation! We really can’t fully comprehend the depth, richness and beauty of the finished work of Christ on the cross and this victorious announcement. It forces us to ponder, wonder, and glory in the cross and ask some penetrating questions.
This is one word in the Greek language (Tetelastai) and it means “Paid in full!” Or “Completely accomplished!” This word speaks of Christ’s death as once for all never to be repeated in where He accomplished everything necessary for our salvation.
What did Jesus fully accomplish on the cross? First, Jesus finished the work the Father gave Him to accomplish. John 4:34 reads, “Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.’”
Second, Jesus demonstrated the fullest expression of love for His people. John 13:1 says, “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”
Third, Jesus’s finished work on the cross demonstrates the greatest display of God’s glory. In His High Priestly Prayer, Jesus prays in John 17:4: “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.”
Fourth, Jesus’ death on the cross shows us the most horrendous experience of suffering ever known. Isaiah 53:4–7 prophesies about Jesus: “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.”
Finally, Jesus powerfully secured the completion of our full salvation. Romans 8:31–34 says, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.”
After crying out “It is Finished!” Jesus bowed His head and gave up His spirit. When Jesus died, He was still sovereignly in control of His own life. No one took His life from Him because He had authority to lay it down on His own accord. John 10:17–18 reads, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”
As we start 2018, would this be a time to honor Jesus, worship Jesus, bow before Jesus, and rest in Jesus as your King of kings and Lord of lords who victoriously cried out “It is Finished!”
The gospel tells us that “being” (identity) comes before “doing” (obedience). This lack of understanding our gospel identity oftentimes results in either legalistic pride or frustrating guilt. At times, we may view the gospel simply as the information a lost person needs in order to be saved. We see it as the entry requirements for the Christian life. Instead, the gospel is not just the entry ramp that gets us on the “Christian highway,” but the gospel is an intricate freeway system that spans from coast to coast. The gospel is meant to be explored and enjoyed—similar to a cross-country excursion.
Listen to how Paul describes the impact of the gospel in Colossians 1:5-6: “Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth.” Paul wrote to those who were already Christians and reminded them that the gospel was bearing fruit and growing in their lives. We need to be saturated in the gospel so that we can overwhelm the temptations of this world with the glory and majesty of Christ.
A gospel-centered believer understands that who we are in Christ (identity) must come before what we do for Christ (obedience). The Bible addresses both issues. The Bible tells us who we are in Christ and what God has done for us (the gospel indicatives); and it also tells us how to obey with holy lives (moral imperatives). What happens if you’re told to obey, but you’re not given the basis or foundation for why and how you can obey based upon your identity in Christ? It can lead to inflated pride on one hand and deflated guilt on the other. You can become puffed up in thinking you can meet God’s standard in your own strength or you shrivel in despair thinking you can never please God. We can begin to think all that God is after is behavior modification and that living the life of faith is about keeping lists and obeying rules without any connection to our dynamic relationship with Christ. Jesus wants us to obey Him because we WANT to not because we HAVE to.
The gospel tells us that God accepts us on the basis of Christ’s righteousness and that on our best days when we are living wonderfully holy lives and on our worst days when we are struggling with sin, He does not love us any more or any less based upon our performance. On those days when you’re arguing with your spouse, speeding in traffic, and getting frustrated with your yappy dog, God does not love you less. Or on those days when you’re hitting on all spiritual cylinders by having your Quiet Time, serving at a soup kitchen, and witnessing to your neighbor, He does not love you more. He loves us constantly and permanently based upon Christ’s performance and His finished work on the cross. When we trusted Christ for salvation, all of our sins were credited to Him and all of His perfect righteousness or perfect record of obedience was credited to us. Based upon what Christ alone has done, God the Father can now declare us not guilty and we are permanently adopted into His family as a dearly loved child.
Many Christians struggle with assurance of their salvation. They often wonder if God loves them less when they are struggling with sin and that He must love them more when they are living the “victorious Christian life.” Evangelicalism has been plagued by an overwhelming confusion between justification and sanctification as the ground of our assurance, position, and acceptance in Christ. We must clearly understand how our assurance of salvation is rooted in what God alone has done for us in Christ through the power of the Spirit. In other words, our foundation for acceptance by God lies in the imputed righteousness of Christ given to us through justification; not in examining how well we are growing in holiness through progressive sanctification as the grounds for our acceptance.
Understanding your position in Christ (identity) will grant you more assurance because you become increasingly aware of God’s riches of grace, which will give you a longer lasting motivation to keep growing. You position becomes more important than you progress because it forces you to look outside of yourself to the finished work of Christ and what the Tri-Une God has sovereignly accomplished on your behalf. In response to this amazing grace, you then joyfully live a life of worship pursing holiness out of gratitude to Him instead being motivated to prove you worth to Him through your obedience. In other words, “being” comes before “doing.”
Our assurance of salvation is rooted in our gospel identity. In essence, the gospel calls you to be who you are! You are God’s chosen child who has been given the imputed righteousness of Christ and you stand accepted solely by His grace alone. Your acceptance and identity does not come in your performance or rigorous attempts to earn God’s love. Instead, your identity comes in your union with Christ as a chosen, justified, adopted child of the Father. Rest securely in your gospel identity and remind yourself daily that “being” comes before “doing.”
Here is yesterday sermon from Proverbs 16:16-19 and Isaiah 59 “Do You Hate What God Hates?” Do you have a category in your mind where God actually expresses a hot hatred toward sin? Proverbs 6 lists seven sins the Lord hates. Yet, in the gospel, God loved us so much to send Jesus to take the wrath of that sin He hates so much.
A few weeks ago, over seven area evangelical churches met together for a night of worship and prayer. I pray with six other pastors in our area every Wednesday and we have committed to support, encourage, and motivate one another to gospel unity in Northeastern Colorado. This community worship service was birthed out of our relationship as pastors in order to model this unity and encouragement that we experience ourselves to overflow to our respective churches.
The theme of the evening was joyful obedience to the Great Commission as evidenced in Jesus words in Matthew 28:19-20: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
What is the main verb in this passage? It starts with “go” and in our English translations we may think that “going” is the main thing we are to do. Go out! Get going! Go door-to-door! GO! “Go” is NOT the main verb. It is actually what is called a participle or a modifier of the main verb. Usually participles end with “ing.” It really should be translated “as you are going.” So Jesus assumes that we are already going. Jesus assumes that we would be making disciples in our daily lives as we go. We are commanded to make disciples in the natural ebb and flow of our lives within our current relationships.
No in fact, “make disciples” is the main verb in this sentence. It is the primary command. Jesus tells us that we have fallen short of the mandate if we don’t make a disciple. There are two other participles that connect to the primary command. They are “baptizing and teaching.”
We then must ask the question, what is a disciple? If we are called to make one then we need to know what one is. The first qualifier is that a disciple is a believer who has made his or her profession in Christ public through the waters of baptism. This is a person who has been immersed under the water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Baptism does not save you, but it is a beautiful symbol of how God has saved you by grace. It symbolizes the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus as well as it illustrates the death of our old life in sin whereby God has raised us to new life in Christ. If you have not followed Jesus in believer’s baptism by immersion I encourage you to make an appointment with your pastor to discuss this in more detail.
But the second qualifier is that we are to be teaching believers. But it doesn’t end there. Notice how specific Jesus was in His wording. We are to teach them to observe or obey all that Jesus commanded. So it’s not just teaching for information, but teaching for transformation. This involves more than just dumping Bible trivia into our heads so that we are full of knowledge. Instead it involves immersing ourselves in God’s Words so that it takes root in our lives and translates to active obedience. James 1:22 says, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” One of the crucial roles of the church is to facilitate the spiritual growth of believers to grow in the knowledge and grace of Christ (2 Peter 3:18).
Craig Blomberg asserts, “The verb ‘make disciples’ also commands a kind of evangelism that does not stop after someone makes a profession of faith. The first of these (baptizing) will be a once-for-all, decisive initiation into Christian community. The second (teaching them obedience) proves a perennially incomplete, life-long task.”
Are you a disciple of Jesus? Have you trusted Him alone to forgive you of your sins? Are you committed to making disciples yourself? Are you part of a Great Commission church? I pray that all of the Bible-believing churches in Northeastern Colorado and around the world remain firmly committed to obeying Jesus’ Great Commission.
Craig Blomberg, Matthew, New American Commentary (Nashville: B & H Publishing Group, 1992), 431.